Producers build on foundation of Extension education
Story by Leah Barbour • Photos by Kevin Hudson
If you produce corn in Mississippi, you’ve probably heard of Mike Pannell. That is, if you don’t already know him personally.
Mike was president of the Mississippi Corn Growers Association longer than he can remember, and he was a founding member of the Corn Promotion Board, serving as chair during his 10 years with the organization.
The Union County-based row-crop farmer has been in business with his brother, Mark, since the early 1980s. After Mike graduated from the University of Mississippi, he and Mark joined their father to farm full time and began Pannell Farms Partnership.
Fast-forward 40 years, and the partnership—now a two-brother operation—produces soybeans and corn in three counties: Union, Tippah, and Benton.
“I handle the planter and trucks during harvest, and Mark handles the spraying and combining,” Mike explains. “We are DIY farmers, all hands-on, and do everything—from treating seeds to hauling grain, all the mechanical work, all the bookkeeping, and all the marketing.
“When producers want to do everything themselves like we do, the Extension Service can give them advice on how to do it,” he adds. “We do our own scouting for disease and insects, and we learned all that from Extension, so we can make the decision ourselves of what needs to be done.”
The Mississippi State University Extension Service has local offices in every county in the state, and Mike is a familiar face to the local Union County Extension agent, Gina Wills.
“Mike has always been a big supporter of Extension and has been more than a client—he’s been a friend to the Extension office staff,” she reflects. “He’s a member of the Union County Fair board and helps put on the Union County Fair each year. Mike is a volunteer you can count on to help and support community programs and Extension.”
Extension corn specialist Dr. Erick Larson also knows Mike well, having worked with him many times over the years. The ways they communicate have changed with the times, but the goals to address disease and improve yields have remained the same.
“As an organization, we have to find ways to deliver information to groups more efficiently,” Larson says. “Most members of Extension’s row-crop specialist team post on the Mississippi Crop Situation blog. If I see something in the field this morning, I can post about it immediately if I want to.
“I do a whole lot of texting and looking at pictures from clients who want to know what’s wrong with their corn. We also do virtual programs that people can download and watch at any time,” he says.
Even as technology has changed the farming industry, Mike emphasizes that Extension is adapting to meet producers’ needs.
“Farming is basically one challenge right after another. Every day, every year is going to bring something new. Extension provides so much information if you ask for it. They are more than willing to go out of their way to provide what you need,” he says.
When the pandemic closed most of Mississippi for a long stretch of 2020, Mike’s production operation did not stop. In fact, 2020 was just another year of growing, and, if anything about it was worth noting, it was actually a pretty good year for the two-man operation.
Farming must continue, Mike affirms. People need food and fiber whether the economy is open or closed.
“Farming is like going to class at school: every day presents you with the opportunity to learn something new and different,” he says. “I’ve relied on the teachers from the Extension Service to provide me with valuable information that has made our operation very successful.”